Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New books, MORE new things to learn

I've been rather frustrated with my inability to ID shorebirds with any kind of confidence, so I finally knuckled down and got a couple of new books: The Shorebird Guide, by Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson -- the shorebird bible! -- and (finally!) the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, and (just for my masochistic side) Extinct and Vanishing Birds of the World by James Cowan Greenway (books like this always just make me sad and angry). That last one hasn't arrived yet, but the first two arrived yesterday and I am THRILLED so far with what I've seen!

First, I dove into the shorebird guide. From the Introduction on, I was learning new things, like the fact that woodcocks and snipe are shorebirds. Yeah, I didn't know that. Still don't really get it, either. But when I read the section on woodcocks and snipe, I'm hoping to understand more!

Both books, especially the shorebird book, stress shape as a critically important aspect of identification. The best part? I went to the CMBO View from the Cape site and just clicked on some shorebird photos they had without looking at the ID info. Two straight birds, I only looked at the silhouettes on the back flap, and I ID'd them both! Granted, they weren't peeps--one was a Marbled Godwit and the other was a Willet; both have distinctive shapes. Still, it was a thrill for a dummy like me!

I'm getting to the Sibley, but probably not until the weekend. AB will be in Baltimore visiting our new niece, so I'll just basically be birding my little heart out and studying my books!

I'm really looking forward to studying hard and taking notes, especially with the Cape May Autumn Weekend coming up. I'm hoping to do a little ID on my own, instead of just following the guides around and letting them do all the work. Plus the big bunker pond at the lighthouse is always a great place to look for peeps and other shorebirds, and I really want to be able to be more than just a beginning birder.

New camera, new things to learn

I'd been thinking about getting a new camera for a while now, after noticing that the auto-focus on my Kodak was just not that sharp anymore, nor was the color so crisp and wonderful, and after getting tired of not having the LCD (it took some sort of impact in CA and went black).

So after asking around, and pricing things on Amazon, and trying some cameras in the stores, I ended up with a Nikon Coolpix 100. I like it so far! The macro mode is pretty awesome:The macro mode on my Kodak never worked well at all. With this camera, like my old Nikon Coolpix 4800, the macro lets you get right up in the nostrils of your subject.

It also has (get this) 26x zoom!!!! Holy hand grenade, I was zooming all over the place on Saturday morning when I went birding! I got a photo of this Red-eyed Vireo who was wwaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy up there in a tree but unfortunately half-hidden behind a branch:But I would've gotten him had he not hidden!

I didn't see too many other birds that day; that's what happens when you go looking for warblers at around 11 a.m. Seems I recall something about an "early bird," but whatever. Tra la la!

I also saw this little damselfly:Looks a lot like that slenderwing I snapped a couple of weeks ago.

I also took a photo of the tiniest little cicada EVER:At least I think it's a cicada. It could just be some sort of fly. But it looks cicada-like!

Speaking of cool-looking bugs, look at this one:That's some very vivid coloring!

Now the focus on these macro shots is not as tack-sharp as I'd like; I think I need a little more practice on that. Plus I find that as I get older, I'm a lot shakier than I used to be. Maybe I should use a tripod for these kinds of shots?

Here's another macro shot: a photo of a daisy from the courtyard garden at our apartments. The gardener is a crazy lady who lives in the next apartment; she's one of those 70-ish "spinster" women who never got married and have no friends and who's been alone wwwaaaaayyyyy too long and thus cannot interact with others in anything resembling culturally accepted ways. She once asked me why I was picking dandelions out of the yard; I told her they were for my rabbit. That evening, we got a note taped to the door, stating unequivocally that rabbits in the yard were completely forbidden according to our lease -- which she then quoted extensively!-- despite the fact that Niblet NEVER leaves the apartment, much less wanders around the yard eating Crazy-Lady's plantings. The next day, she accused me of breaking her morning glory vines, claiming she'd "seen me" in the yard. Well, you know what a plant-hating vagrant I am! I told her I didn't touch her vine, wouldn't break her vine ever, etc.--she said, "Oh I know it was you! I saw you!" Wow. So I just said, "hey, think what you like. It wasn't me," and walked off.


She also plays her TV at FULL VOLUME every single morning from 6 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Sometimes, I just want to leave her a note quoting our lease and stating that I'm legally allowed to kill her if she doesn't turn down that damned TV. I figure if I put it in quotes, she'll take it seriously.

Anyway -- sorry to get off on a tangent! Back to the camera. I'm not sure whether I like the quality of the autofocus. Is is me, or is the focus on this shot of mallards a bit soft?I wasn't zooming much at all here. This is cropped but not otherwise edited. The focus looks a little soft to me. Or am I just going blind? It's also possible that the focal point (which you can set on this camera) was just too small or whatever. Or too big.

I need to shoot some more tomorrow (somewhere in there between working and working) and make a final decision on whether I want to keep the camera. The place where I bought it has a 14-day return policy as long as nothing is wrong with the camera, so I've been very careful during my testing process.

If this one doesn't suit me, I will probably just buy one like Mary's. Her photos are always incredible, and I'm hoping some of her magic will rub off on me.

If anyone else can suggest a good medium-priced ($250-400) point-and-shoot that (1)isn't just one of those little snappy brick-looking ones (i.e., this) and that (2)has a manual mode so I can pretend I know something about f-stop, etc. -- please suggest in the comments! And it's (3)gotta have good zoom and macro modes!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Baird's Sandpiper!

Never thought I'd see a Baird's Sandpiper this far EAST -- they migrate south through the Great Plains west of the Mississippi -- but we've had one here at nearby Bald Eagle State Park for the last couple of days, and today I was able to get up there and see it!

Here are the best of my crappy photos; it was an overcast and misty day:

Here's the bird with what I first thought was a Semipalmated but someone else called a Least Sandpiper that was working the swimmer's beach alongside the Baird's:I just didn't pay much attention to the little guy, but he was small and brown, a lot like a Least.

Here's what a real photographer, listserv buddy Ron Crandall, did with the same bird, a much better camera, and getting a lot closer to the bird.

I also saw more Eastern Kingbirds and Eastern Bluebirds than I could count; they were everywhere and the bluebirds were VERY excited, chasing one another in what seemed liked territory-protection displays. These two were hanging out on a pavilion after chasing each other in super-tight formation. The funny part was their plumage. Do adults molt most of their blue off, or were ALL the birds I saw first-year juveniles? Because they ALL looked like this: speckled like starlings on the breast/shoulders, blue only on wing and tail tips.

Here's my complete list, courtesy of eBird:
Double-crested Cormorant
Turkey Vulture
Least Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)
Eastern Kingbird
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Eastern Bluebird
Gray Catbird
Chipping Sparrow (I was delighted to see an adult feeding a juvenile as they foraged on the ground. No pics, though! Couldn't get a good shot in time.)
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shorebird confusion -- unconfused!

I went to the Julian Wetlands this afternoon during the hottest part of the day -- it was too early to knock doors for work, so I figured a little time on the steamy marsh would be a good alternative.

I saw some good birds, nothing unusual -- but I saw some birds I just couldn't ID. I've been sitting here with my Peterson's Eastern (the 1947 edition), my Peterson's Western (that one's brand new), and Bill Thompson III's Identify Yourself. Still, I'm kinda hesitant on the following birds:

Mystery bird 1:
Okay -- is that a Lesser Yellowlegs with a realllllllly long beak? Optical illusion? We haven't had any Greater Yellowlegs at Julian this year, so that's not really an option; besides, this bird was about Lesser size. Sorry I don't have a better/another photo for you.

Mystery bird 2, ID'd by John and Patrick as a Spotted Sandpiper:
These pics are awful, but it was blazing hot with heat shimmer all over the place, and I was pretty far away. Anyhow -- note the distinctly white belly and breast -- only the neck is grayish. Smaller than the Lesser Yellowlegs. And see that weird white part on the shoulder? Note that Patrick mentioned that as a field mark specific to the Spotted Sandpiper! And this guy is molting into winter plumage, so no spots on the Spotted Sandpiper. Thanks, John and Patrick!

Here's the next bird, Mystery bird 3--I sent this one out on the local listserv, and Nick Bolgiano (co-author of the newly updated and revised Birds of Pennsylvania) sent me an email asking for more pics, so we may well get an ID on this guy:

This bird was just slightly smaller than the Lesser Yellowlegs, and I could've sworn (though it was really bright and I only had the binocs, not the scope) that its legs were RED. Probably an optical illusion. But check out that filthy-dirty breast -- way more dark feathering than the other LEYEs I saw. But then again -- it's probably just another LEYE.

Last one, Mystery bird 4, who indeed turned out to be the same kind of bird as Mystery Bird 2, a Spotted Sandpiper:

Okay -- your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help a shorebird beginner figure this crap out! Again, thanks to John and Patrick for the ID.

Other stuff I saw:
an actual Lesser Yellowlegs

a Least Sandpiper--they're easy: brown and tiny.

a bunch of different dragonflies flitting around. Here, one of the dragonflies was sitting on the mud and touching his tail to the water over and over; you can't even see him, though you can see the ring of waves resulting from his water-tapping. The others were big dragonflies I can't ID.

I tried to ID this damselfly, but I couldn't find one with as much blue on the eyes, head, and thorax and yet no blue on long long tail part. I gave up. Patrick came to the rescue with an ID of Spreadwing sp., probably Slender Spreadwing. Pretty!

This appears to be a Ruby Meadowhawk, albeit a small one.

There were a ridiculous number of butterflies out today as well: No idea again, but Patrick says Pearl Crescent. Sheesh. Someday I'll gut it up and get a Kaufman's guide to butterflies and moths.

Now THIS one I know--and yet it turns out I DON'T know -- this is the elusive (to me, anyway) Viceroy!:
Patrick pointed out that horizontal stripe across the hindwings, which I missed. For some reason, I thought Viceroys were a little more orange-y. So much for that highly technical field mark point, right?

There were Clouded Sulphurs, Cabbage Whites, a Buckeye, and some others I couldn't photograph or ID.

And what would a beautiful day be without a stunning sunset?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Turkey lurkey!

I've been watching a flock of Wild Turkeys that appear on a regular basis along I-99 coming into State College from Philipsburg, where I work. I hadn't seen them for a few weeks and was quite worried about them, but yesterday I saw them again!
The first time I saw the flock, it consisted of three adults and 17 poults. Yesterday, however, the flock numbered only 11. Whether it's the same flock, I can't be sure--but it was in the same area as other times I'd seen the birds.
Here, you can see how there was an adult to the right of the shot who was sort-of herding the rest of the flock along the side of the highway and making sure no one got too close to the road. This bird literally pushed the others away from the road while keeping them moving along the grass as they ate. You can also see the lookout, at the top of the frame, who kept constant watch of the flock and the surroundings. He would run up the hill a couple of steps, turn, and crane that skinny neck and watch for threats; then he'd do it again.

Here are some close-ups, or at least as close as I could zoom in; I didn't want to scare them into running onto the highway so I hung back:

There were some funny moments; this looks like a little one being scolded by the lookout turkey:
Get back over there with your mother, young man!

See how he's always stretching and checking out the scene?

I'm starting to think that maybe Wild Turkeys are my favorite bird; they're just so cute and it's fairly easy to see them around here. I've seen one run out onto the road, stopping traffic, and then dither back and forth, right and left, in a panic, trying to get off the road as quickly as possible! That was pretty funny; luckily, everyone was going slow and stopped, and the turkey made it safely off the road.

Lynne has her TuVus; I have my WITUs. Not that the Blackburnian Warbler has left my heart; nor have I stopped loving Indigo Buntings or Dark-eyed Juncos. But I just love Wild Turkeys!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Migration signs continue

AB and I went out to the Julian Wetlands this evening, and the most notable thing was the absence of Red-winged Blackbirds. Have they already started their trip south? I have to think so because they're always very vocal, but we didn't hear any of them.

We saw some good birds, if not a great variety:
Wood Duck 2
Mallard 2
Great Blue Heron 3
Green Heron 1
Killdeer 10
Lesser Yellowlegs 3
Eastern Kingbird 3
Barn Swallow X
Gray Catbird 1
European Starling X
Song Sparrow 2
American Goldfinch X
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)

AB got in some good practice with her new bins, focusing on the yellowlegs across the marsh and some Bullfrogs right up close to us:

I was pretty slow on the camera shutter today, focusing instead on IDing birds for AB and making sure she saw everything. The sky was breathtaking:

It was a lovely evening with my gal, watching birds.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Out and about

Wow, check out what I saw today!Oh, you should click for bigger!
Yeah, baby!
I like the way I really captured the intricate metalwork of the fence, the man-made in contrast to the earthiness of the dry grasses.

Yeah. Great work.

Thank you, autofocus.

Monday, August 02, 2010

It's that time again!

I just got the updated link for the Cape May Autumn Migration Weekend schedule! Yay yay yay!

I've been getting really excited about the upcoming migration, having missed it last year -- at least, I missed the eastern migration line, having been in Texas for most of it last year. (And I didn't get to do near enough birding down there, but that's what WORK will do for you!) I've been talking with Susan and Laura and my bff Gretchen about getting a big gang -- the Flock! -- to go again this year!

It's been almost two years since my whirlwind trip to Cape May to meet up with the Flock again, and a full THREE YEARS since the first little Flock fledglings -- Susan at Lake Life, LauraHinNJ, Susan Gets Native, and I -- met at Cape May and I got to meet such showy nationally known birds as Birdchick, John from A DC Birding Blog (who now helps so much with IDs on this blog), Amy the Wildbird on the Fly, and Jay from BirdJam! Now, the Flock has grown by leaps and bounds, migrating all over the country, and I've missed so many of these gatherings.

So here's my wish: I'm hoping we can get as many Flock members as possible to go this year -- it's simply not to be missed! Come on, all of you people in my birdy links list! I mean, Pete Dunne will be there! Bill of the Birds will be there! And it's Cape May!

I'm sure hoping YOU will be there -- especially those of you I haven't met. So if you've got some vacation time coming, and a few pennies hidden away for a little bird-related splurge, come to Cape May!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Non-birds at Julian Wetlands--with IDs

I have been seeing so many dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies this year, and I managed to get some decent photos the other day though the sun was rather harsh and bright:
I believe this is a Ruby Meadowhawk, based on the black markings on the sides of his abdomen, the yellow face (face?), and his overall color.

This sky-blue fellow
appears to be a Great Blue Skimmer, Libellula vibrans, but his markings are not very vibrans. Ah, John says it's an Eastern Pondhawk -- that looks much more accurate. Check comments for his link.

This damselfly, a spreadwing of some sort, was very camera-friendly, as was this little butterfly:

I can't for the life of me remember what this is called -- I think it has something to do with the white spot on his wing... help! Ah--John to the rescue again -- Silver-spotted Skipper -- I knew it was something about the spot!

I think that the blue dragonfly may be an Eastern Pondhawk.

Look at this pretty little gem:
I'm guessing Silvery Checkerspot, Chlosyne nycteis, but John says Pearl Crescent. Okay, okay -- I need to get a guide!

This beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, came within inches of my camera lens:
I saw that the female of that butterfly is black, but then so are Pipevine Swallowtails. So what is this black one?

The markings on her abdomen are different from the male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail's; the spots are like a Black Swallowtail. But the wing markings don't really match any of the black swallowtails like Pipevine, Spicebush, etc. So what is it? John says Spicebush. It's tough in this individual, as his wings are somewhat worn. I couldn't get any more pictures of him either, as he was not stopping for more than a second or two, never giving me enough time to get more than this one shot.